Cyber security is essential to national security
By Congressman Joe Pitts
If I told you that Chinese hackers gained access to the computers in the offices of U.S. Representatives and stole personal information about Chinese dissidents and human rights violations, you may think I have been watching too much Hollywood. But this is all too real, and it represents a growing national security problem.
In fact, two of my colleagues and friends, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), just revealed this week that computers in their offices were compromised by cyber attacks, and the source of the attacks was China. Both Wolf and Smith have been outspoken critics of China's human rights abuses, which made them natural targets for Chinese hackers. These attacks are significant breaches of security, and they sound an alarm here on Capitol Hill that we are not as secure as we may believe.
Cyber security has emerged as one of the most important fronts in the effort to secure our nation. As more and more of our information and critical infrastructure is stored and transmitted digitally, it has become increasingly important that we as a nation take the necessary steps to ensure that information is not compromised.
The Congressional attacks are just the latest in a string of revelations over the last few years that indicate the Chinese government, or agents thereof, are dedicating a significant amount of resources in the ability to compromise information networks here in the United States.
A recent National Journal article indicates that some experts in the cyber field believe that Chinese agents, working remotely and utilizing a cyber line of attack, may have been involved in the power blackouts that plagued a large portion of the northeast U.S. in 2003 and south Florida in February of this year.
The same article noted that executives of major U.S. companies and even Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez found their computers to be compromised after traveling to China.
Anyone that does not believe cyber warfare is not a real and pressing threat needs only to look at the case of Estonia. In 2007, when Estonia announced plans to move the Bronze Soldier Soviet war memorial from its perch in the middle of the nation's capital, Russia unleashed a cyber attack that literally shut down the small Baltic nation. Everything from government ministries to political parties, newspapers, banks, and companies were subject to the attack from individuals operating from inside Russia.
Cyber security needs to be a concern for not only our military and our government, but for our nation's corporations as well. Our banking sector, for example, is an essential part of our economy. An attack on our financial infrastructure could have a potentially devastating effect on the nation's economic well-being.
Cyber warfare is quickly becoming one of the more important aspects of electronic warfare in the military setting. Because of my belief that America cannot maintain its military edge in the new millennium unless it continues to control the electromagnetic spectrum in times of peace and war, nine years ago I founded and I co-chair the electronic warfare working group in Congress. The EW working group seeks to bring attention to issues such as cyber warfare among Members of Congress.
The cyber communications that have revolutionized our way of life in the 21st century have also created the opportunity for a great vulnerability in the most critical of our nation's infrastructures. Everything from power generation and distribution, to financial networks, to transportation can be vulnerable if not properly guarded. And we are not succeeding in that effort.
The disturbing fact is a small group of highly skilled individuals can enact a level of damage against our nation that has previously been reserved for militaries. The government, including our federal government and its various agencies, as well as the military need to continue to address this growing threat. But we must be joined in vigilance by the private corporations and organizations that maintain other critical elements of our society. Cyber security is a goal that we must all work toward.